The Future Office: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

The future never arrives as planned, but these wild innovations will certainly keep things interesting.

The Future Office

Robot secretaries and 4-hour workdays? Probably not. But the office of the future will likely be a more pleasant place to toil, even if a jet pack doesn't get you there. Here's a look at workplace tech, both real and imagined, that may redefine the 9-to-5 grind.

Portable Office

Is your "home office" really the kitchen table or a desktop in the laundry room? If so, the OfficePod is your passport to roomier digs. This portable office, ideal for the backyard, measures 2.1 by 2.1 meters (just under 7 by 7 feet) and is spacious enough to accommodate one work-surface-bound person. Available in the United Kingdom, the OfficePod might serve as a small guest house, too--except that there's no loo.

Perspiring Professional

Sitting on your ever-expanding posterior isn't the healthiest way to spend an 8-hour workday. So why not feel the burn while bringing home the bacon? The WalkStation is a combination treadmill/workstation that lets you enjoy a daily dose of cardio at the office. A touchpad controller lets you adjust the unit's speed, height, and other settings. The top treadmill speed is 2 miles per hour--essentially a brisk walk. Talk about multitasking!

Sky Pilot

This spaceship-like workstation is all about personal space. Conceived by designer Marcus Ward Curran, the unit has a collapsible cover that doubles as a Cinerama Dome-style video screen. An integrated projection system displays videoconferencing sessions--or a mood-altering light show--on the cover's interior walls. Built-in speakers and lighting are included, natch. Shouldn't there be a Cone of Silence feature, too?

Dystopian Desktop

In the futuristic sci-fi thriller Minority Report, precrime cop John Anderton (Tom Cruise) dons special gloves to grab and toss windows of data--a far more intuitive UI than today's touchscreens, keyboards, and mice. It's fun to watch Cruise wave his arms to conduct a symphony of virtual displays too. While gestural input may seem far off, working prototypes exist today. Check out Oblong Industries' video of its G-Speak spatial operating environment.

Touchy Feely

Okay, Minority Report it isn't, but Microsoft Surface provides a tantalizing peek into the future of human-machine interaction. A multitouch computer that responds to hand gestures and physical objects placed on its screen, Surface is a central component of kiosk displays around the globe. Over time, Surface-like technology will migrate to office and personal computing devices, too, perhaps rendering the mouse and the touchpad obsolete.

Pandora Office

In the 3D epic Avatar, corporate baddies and their khaki-clad cohorts use holographic imagery to plot their attack on the Na'vi's Tree of Souls. While holograms haven't exactly gone mainstream, they are used today in some education and training applications, particularly in the defense and aerospace industries. Eventually, office PCs may use holographic technology to store data or display business presentations. Take that, PowerPoint.

Flexible Workstation

The traditional office cubicle has its critics, many of whom see the boxy, partially enclosed workspace as the soulless symbol of wage-slave corporate misery. (Of course, they don't have much to say about the office environment that preceded the corporate cubicle farm.) The Knoll A3 office system reinvents the workspace by introducing brighter colors and eye-catching patterns. The translucent mesh walls encourage communication among worker bees--and give inveterate tent campers that comfortable in-the-woods feeling--at the price of reducing privacy a bit. But how much real privacy does a traditional cubicle give you anyway?

Marble Office

Globus may look like something straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Men in Black, but that doesn't mean this glossy white marble isn't a functional piece of office furniture. Simply pull back the lid to reveal a comfortable rotating chair and a fold-out work tray. Designer Michael van der Kley says his Globus is ideal for both office and home; it certainly gives new meaning to the term "pod people."

Office Scooter

This workstation-on-wheels concept rethinks the notion that a stationary staff is best--and that an office's hallways should be a safe place to walk in. Scoot is an office scooter with a personal storage area, a computer-ready desktop, and a cushy padded seat (albeit without a backrest). Office "nomads" could roam the corridors with their Scoot workstations. Could this be a new market for the Segway, too? Or might it inspire an all-indoor Mad Max sequel?

Technicolor Tomorrowland

Nostalgic for the days of future past? Highlights of this bold and bright retro-future office from the 1964 World's Fair include a genuine Ma Bell landline phone and a panel of video screens with TV static--not to mention garish colors, groovy plastic, and a secretary with matching white cap and gloves who looks like she just stepped off a Braniff Airways flight circa 1970. If the workplace of the future had turned out to be this colorful, we'd all be suffering from flash blindness, not carpal tunnel syndrome. For more World’s Fair tech, see "Back to the Future With World’s Fair Tech: 8 Amazing Highlights."

Oval Office

Here's another mini-office module for smaller homes. Resembling a huge, recumbent bongo drum, the Orb is an oval-shaped workspace elevated on four legs--a convenient design for gardens or flood-prone areas. Glass walls and windows provide ample natural light in the daytime, and the distinctive elliptical shape is bound to get your neighbors' attention. Let's hope no gigantic calypso musicians live nearby.

Anchors Aweigh

It's the 22nd century. Rising ocean water has flooded the world's coastal regions, creating the need for vast floating cities capable of cruising the high seas. Or so goes the dire prediction from, a forward-looking site that speculates on things to come. In this seafaring scenario, you'd work (and live) on the mother of all cruise ships--hopefully one with a rock-climbing wall, a midnight buffet, and Dramamine Fridays. Or you could move to Santa Fe (elevation 7199 feet by current reckoning) and enjoy sea views of the expanded Gulf of Mexico from dry land.

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